25 years of efforts to close the pay gap between men and women have had only minimal effect, and the Federal Government agency charged with fixing the situation will soon step up its efforts to encourage employers pay equal wages for work of equal value.
The agency concerned is the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA), which will soon relaunch as the Workplace General Equality Agency.
At a media event today EOWA Director Helen Conway said that the gap between men’s and women’s pay remains at 17.2%, roughly the same as it was 25 years ago. While the causes of the gap are many and complex, she cited “feminised” industries such as child care and aged care as examples of industries women dominate and which often pay poor wages because women’s skills are undervalued by both society and employers. Many women also work part-time, which further depresses their wages. Even in large enterprises, however, women often receive lower wages than male counterparts.
A lack of education and training is another factor that keeps women’s wages low, often because women who return to the workforce after caring for children find themselves lagging in terms of professional development compared to men who enjoy unbroken careers. Fewer women tend to work in industries that offer discretionary pay or bonuses, another factor that contributes to lower earnings.
|Some rather nice cupcakes with the equal sign served by EOWA to promote Equal Pay Day|
Many employers, Conway said, are aware of these issues and the resulting gender pay gap, but choose not to act.
Conway said she feels employers hurt themselves by doing so, as women recognise employers that value equality and will naturally gravitate to companies that value it. With unemployment low and skilled workers scarce, she said equal pay makes good business sense.
EOWA tries to help business indentify and rectify gender pay inequality with a suite of online tools, an online course called Mind the Gap and with hands-on consultancy. The agency suggests a gender pay equity audit (there's an online tool to help here) as one step towards addressing the gap, and Conway said she feels making equal pay a key performance indicator for senior management is another important step. She also advocated compulsory catch-up training for women returning to the workforce after caring for children.
The organisation will also stage Equal Pay Day on September 1st to raise awareness of the issue.
The agency has recently received a boost in funding to promote these activities and enhance the online services it offers to employers. Conway also plans to introduce a new program once legislation formalising its new name and new mission is passed.
A “light touch” approach to regulation will remain its hallmark, as while all businesses with over 100 staff are required to report to EOWA it employs only 33 full-time equivalent staff. The agency will therefore try to work through industry groups to help spread the message to small business, and then use its online services to offer more assistance.
That message will include a program encouraging employers to be more proactive with offers of flexible employment conditions to men.